The weekly Prospect Spotlight feature returns for the 2016-17 season on TampaBayLightning.com. Each week, fans will be able to catch up on how their favorite prospects are performing and progressing throughout the season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning used their first of three second round picks in 2016 to select Czech defenseman Libor Hajek of the Western Hockey League's Saskatoon Blades. Hajek has shown continued progression in his second year with Saskatoon, solidifying himself as the team's No. 1 defenseman.
Coming over from the Czech Republic to play in Saskatoon was a new experience for both Hajek and the Blades coaching staff. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound defenseman came in as the only player on the roster from the Czech Republic. In fact, Hajek is still the only Czech player on the roster and one of just two Europeans on the team.
"I think last year he came in as an unknown really to me and to the organization and just really played solid for us," Saskatoon head coach Dean Brockman said. "He was one of those guys that you could see had pro potential."
The Lightning, amongst other NHL teams, saw that same potential in Hajek. After being taken second overall in the 2015 Canadian import draft, Hajek had to adjust quickly to playing on a smaller ice surface in North America. Brockman has taken notice of Hajek's desire to improve and better himself as a player.
"He's always had a really good work ethic, that's for sure," Brockman said. "After practice he stays and works on things. Coming before, he's always in the gym. He's always trying to better himself as a player, and that's how he leads the team. That's why he has an 'A' on his jersey."
Hajek gained valuable experience at the IIHF Under-18 World Championships both in 2015 and 2016, skating against some of the world's best young talents, including Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Matthew Tkachuk.
"Any time you're playing against that elite competition, it can only do wonders for you," Brockman said. "It just seems he has that ability to raise his level. Any time there's a big game or any time it's tougher competition, the better he plays."
Having a player with as much versatility as Hajek has been a nice addition for the Blades the past two years. The defenseman is playing in all situations night after night and has collected ten assists so far this season.
"He's playing a ton of minutes for us," Brockman said. "He plays power play. He plays penalty kill. He's always playing against the other team's best forwards.
"He is a shutdown guy. He's a very consistent player. He can make guys miss on the forecheck and make that great first pass. He's just day in and day out. You get the most out of him every day."
Although defenseman can take a longer time to develop and find their way to the NHL, Brockman believes that Tampa Bay fans have a lot to be excited for when Hajek joins the big club.
"He'll be a shutdown guy," Brockman said. "He's just very solid in his own end. He's going to be that steady guy. He's got that escapability. He makes a great first pass. He wants to improve day in and day out."